Designated Survivor dove headfirst into the most ultra-sensitive topic of all this week. Yep, Tom Kirkman (Kiefer Sutherland) walked down racism road with two stories dealing with social injustice. Three, if you count one story about a man berating a frog! Don't downplay speciesism, folks.
It was a bold decision to go head on with racism, and a move that appears to be more commonplace in the recharged second season that is slowly pushing aside the conspiracy theories that buoyed Season 1 in favor of real-world current events. I definitely had concerns about losing the action related to the conspiracy, but so far, the new look of Designated Survivor is doing just fine with less of it.
Let's see what we learned in this week's Designated Survivor.
1. The show can predict the future
"Outbreak" was written in July of this year, well before August's Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia sparked violence and brought the removal of Confederate statues to the forefront of American consciousness. Sure, statues honoring heroes of the South have been getting removed for years, but it wasn't until late this summer that it became a focal point between the left and the right. This bit of fortuitous timing gave "Outbreak" a real timely quality; if only things could go over as well as they did in the episode. Also, does Designated Survivor leaping on to this issue before it became a talking point in the news mean I should get a flu shot, like right now?
2. There was a pretty defining line drawn on racial issues
With an A-story about the allocation of drugs to townships dominated by minorities and a B-story about Confederate statue removal, "Outbreak" was charged. Designated Survivor has to do its best about taking stances; like Kirkman, compromise — where necessary — is key, but not every issue requires everyone to meet in the middle. The virus story was very clear where it stood: we can't let minorities or impoverished citizens die because they can't afford medicine during a health crisis, and conversely, the proper meds can't be funneled to white people because they have deeper pockets. However, the Confederate statue quandary found a more moderate solution. The statue, which was prominently on display in a town square, was moved to a national park. The argument was that it was part of the state's history and shouldn't be completely removed. But the asterisk was that a civil rights leader wanted it to remain standing as a reminder of the injustice that took place. History should be learned from, and if we rewrite it (i.e. removed symbols of the bad times), it does the future no good. It's a solution that appeases both sides, even if the statue remaining standing means something entirely different for both sides.
3. We really found out what kind of man Kirkman is
One thing I really liked about this episode was how it doubled down on the person Kirkman really is. The way he handled the situation with pharmaceutical CEO Carlton Mackey was pure old-school politics. Needing more treatments for a virus that was out of control in Louisiana and Mississippi but hitting a roadblock by the CEO who wanted to profit off the medication, Kirkman gave him an earful behind closed doors and used his contacts to smear the CEO in the media in order to get him to change his mind. But Kirkman then publicly praised the CEO as a hero with a full ceremony on the White House lawn when the CEO gave in and offered up the drugs. Kirkman totally deflected any credit from himself (something a certain current president would never do) and, in Aaron's words, "sucked up to the guy who lied to his face" all for the greater good, which he and Lyor (Paulo Costanzo) defined as "leadership."
And later, when Kirkman finally met the previously undiscovered animal — a South American hermaphrodite tree frog — that would bear his name, he never saw a slimy amphibian, he saw a resilient animal who could fight off attackers and loved that he was being associated with it. The bottom line: Kirkman doesn't care about his image, he cares about doing what's right.
4. Kendra found out that D.C. is a constant uphill battle
Designated Survivor does all it can to instill hope in government, but it's also not afraid to remind us that we're stuck in a pile of doo-doo right now. New White House counsel Kendra (Zoe McLellan) — and us, by extension — found that out firsthand in a rough day of work that saw her trying to find a solution to a Confederate statue removal and the proper allocation of drugs during a viral outbreak. She said it seemed like the White House's job is to constantly put out fires, to which Emily (Italia Ricci) didn't disagree. Scenes like this keep the show grounded and relatable.
5. Chuck got a victory, sort of
The show's current punching bag is computer whiz Chuck (Jake Epstein), who joins us all in having a massive unrequited crush on Hannah (Maggie Q). Hannah's close working relationship with British agent Damian (Ben Lawson) has Chuck boiling with jealousy, and who can blame him? The chemistry just isn't there between Hannah and Damian, despite the show trying to force them together; yes, #Chuggie is the real endgame here, and you can bet that next time I talk to showrunner Keith Eisner, I'm asking about it. Chuck's snide remarks and contentious stares are incredible, and he finally got a little win when Damian was forced to leave the country due to our government not being able to protect him on a B+E charge he got from working with Hannah. This is obviously only temporary, but let's all celebrate with Chuck while we can.
6. Surprise, surprise, the mother-in-law causes trouble!
The big reveal about whatever conspiracy remains involved Kirkman's mother in law Eva (Bonnie Bedelia), whose house was ransacked by Lloyd in last week's episode. Lloyd's tracks led Hannah to a document in Eva's desk regarding Eva's husband's heart transplant (and Damian and Hannah came to the conclusion that Lloyd was leading them to that document as a clue, which, uhhh, sure), and they were able to tie together the fact that Eva took a bribe from her days as a secretary for the Defense Department: she gave inside info for a defense contract to a certain bidder in exchange for bumping up hubby on the transplant list. And when Hannah tried to find the hospital chief who OK'd that bump, he was very, very dead! It's too early to come up with any reasonable theories about why Lloyd would want this information exposed (or the convoluted way in which he did it), but it's news that could wreck the Kirkmans, especially with so many people wanting Kirkman out of office.
Designated Survivor airs Wednesday nights at 10/9c on ABC.